In the Middle of Nowhere

Why the democrats can forget the ‘center’ and do what’s right

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The Center Cannot Hold (source: The Intellgencer)

In Dems Can Abandon the Center Because the Center Doesn’t Exist | Eric Levitz delinks the argument that political parties need to capture the political center:

The notion that there is an easily identifiable, median political ideology in America derives from the “spatial model” of the electorate, which first gained prominence in the middle of the 20th century. Originally formulated by economists, the model imagines a voting public composed of ideologically diverse — but uniformly rational — citizens seeking to advance their coherent political philosophies. In their 2016 book Democracy for Realists, political scientists Larry Bartels and Christopher Achen offer this thumbnail sketch of the theory:

[T]he political “space” consists of a single ideological dimension on which feasible policies are arrayed from left to right. Each voter is represented by an ideal point along this dimension reflecting the policy she prefers to all others. Each party is represented by a platform reflecting the policy it will enact if elected. Voters are assumed to maximize their ideological satisfaction with the election outcome by voting for the parties closest to them on the ideological dimension, Parties are assumed to maximize their expected payoff from office-holding by choosing the platforms most likely to get them elected.

… [T]his framework is sufficient to derive a striking and substantively important prediction: both parties will adopt identical platforms corresponding to the median of the distribution of voters’ ideal points.

Those who subscribe to the spatial model acknowledge that this prediction doesn’t bear out: Real-life political parties are beholden to interest groups, donors, and hyperpartisan activists who inhibit their capacity to court the median voter. Still, the model dictates that whichever party can best neutralize those constraints and capture the center, wins.

But, as Achen and Bartels argue in their book, the problem with this theory is that none of its premises are true.

Go read it. Levitz is fun to read, in a snarky way. And the piece is bristling with great insights:

As [Berkley political scientist David] Broockman told Vox’s Ezra Klein in 2014, “When we say moderate what we really mean is what corporations want … Within both parties there is this tension between what the politicians who get more corporate money and tend to be part of the establishment want — that’s what we tend to call moderate — versus what the Tea Party and more liberal members want.”

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